The Importance of ‘Monday Morning Quarterbacking’

headshot of Rob PincusRob Pincus has appeared on several episodes of the Stop the Threat TV program, which dissects re-enactments of actual crimes to share lessons that can be learned from the experiences of the victims.

There is no replacement for experience … or is there?

In his book On Combat,Lt. Col. Dave Grossman coined the term “Pre-Battle Veteran” to refer to people who had been through highly realistic training that gave them experiences similar to actual veterans of conflict, so they were acclimated to the stress of battle before they had ever actually experienced it. Naturally, that training is often based on actual events.

Reality-Based Training

The entire reality-based training movement is based on the idea that we can learn during high-level scenario and simulation in ways that prepare us better than any other way for actually using defensive force during a fight. From the medical profession to pilot training to teens learning how to drive, simulationis a very well established method of learning.

rob training with firearm

Studying past events indicates that it is worth training for being in contact with a potential attacker, even while you are carrying a defensive firearm.

How are the scenarios and simulations developed and scripted? By its very nature, valuable “reality based” training has to be rooted in things that either have actually happened or are plausible for the students involved. This is pretty well accepted in the defensive training community. No one questions the idea that we should prepare for things that have happened repeatedly to others in the past. When we put a student into a scenario, allow them to experience the events and perform various responsive actions, the next step for those participating in the events is really the most vital: The after-action review or debrief or, more simply, the discussion of what happened during the scenario is where the best breakthroughs in understanding often occur. Again, these things are pretty self-evident and widely accepted by professionals and students throughout the community.

Learning from Actual Events

Yet far too often, taking advantage of the huge opportunity to learn from actual events is scoffed at or even met with scorn and derision. Why? There are many reasons. Ego. Emotion. Fear. Sensitivity. Misplaced sense of “respect.” Most people don’t want their actions to be judged. Many people don’t want the responsibility of judging the actions of others.

man shooting from a vehicle

Knowing that many people are attacked in their vehicles, studying how best to use a defensive firearm in those situations makes sense, even if it means pointing out flaws in how it has been taught in the past.

But this is life and death stuff. The possible value of judging the actions of those who have been involved in violent conflict, especially when we have objective evidence (video cameras, autopsy, physical evidence collected at the scene of conflict), far outweighs the awkward feelings that we may encounter in the process of reviewing, commenting on, discussing and learning from the event. In fact, when it comes to violent conflict, we can learn a lot more on Monday morning than we can during the big game itself.

Everything we know about perception and memory formation during critical-incident stress suggests that we can’t learn how to respond to an event during the event. In the heat of the moment, we either execute learned responses or improvise something in combination with natural reactions. Only after the event, during review of the objective facts, can we really form hypotheses and draw conclusions about the efficacy, efficiency and value of certain actions during the fight. We can also extrapolate value judgments in regard to training methods that were used prior to the event based on whether or not skills were executed “as planned.” Naturally, we can extend lessons learned from a review of actual events to assign value to choices made about techniques, tactics and gear as well. Honestly, I can’t think of anything more valuable to the process of developing the best preparation program for dealing with violent conflict than to review and learn from examples of prior conflict and the performance of those involved.

The military and police special operations communities have entrenched processes for review of actions after operations in order to identify failure points and areas for improvement. The National Transportation Safety Board has as its prime mission the reconstruction of events leading up to accidents so that lessons can be learned and similar events avoided in the future. The phrase “Monday morning quarterbacking” itself obviously comes from the world of sports, where tapes of actual games are reviewed to see what mistakes were made that don’t need to be repeated. When we have the opportunity to learn from the experiences of others, I believe we need to latch onto the incredible value without fear of judgment. Yes, there is a time and place for being sensitive to the victims of an event and for honoring the heroes who sometimes emerge from conflict … but the review of an event needs to be focused on the potential for helping those who may face similar circumstances in the future. The greater good is certainly not in protecting the feelings of those who have already suffered, but in possibly preventing untold scores of people from ever needing to suffer in the future.

Zimmerman Trial

This week, much of the gun community is focused on the Zimmerman Trial. This trial is incredibly focused on the events that occurred on the ground in the last 30 seconds or so before Trayvon Martin died. Without video, it is almost impossible to make judgments about whether or not George Zimmerman “needed” to fire his gun during that time. We can certainly see that there is evidence of a need to train for interpersonal conflict, a need for learning to defend yourself while in contact with another human, and a need to learn to deploy and fire a defensive handgun while in contact. But we are really guessing about who touched whom first, who did (or could have) escalated or de-escalated the situation verbally, and many other variables that will ultimately affect the outcome of the court case. We certainly can, however, learn a very simple lesson from earlier in the timeline: If Zimmerman had not inserted himself into the role of neighborhood patrolman and simply driven to the grocery store, he wouldn’t be sitting in court right now and more importantly, Trayvon Martin would not have been shot that night.

If I were to run the force-on-force scenario 1000 times with 1000 students, I can’t imagine the version where I say that the student was right to get out of their vehicle and put themselves into a confrontation with the unknown subject. There were no screams for help that prompted Zimmerman to intervene, and the subject was nowhere near Zimmerman’s home or family. Zimmerman’s car wasn’t disabled on the side of the road. We have seen no objective evidence that there was any indication of impending violence by Martin. I say that anyone truly interested in personal defense should’ve at the very least stayed in their vehicle. That’s the most important lesson I would want any of my students to learn from the Zimmerman case.

Monday Morning Quarterbacking? You bet! That’s part of my job. It should be part of the job of everyone in the training industry … and in fact of everyone who prepares for personal defense.

Regardless of your opinion on Zimmerman this week, you need to be open to the idea of Monday Morning Quarterbacking when it comes to any event that you can learn about and then learn from. Don’t hesitate to ask hard questions and make judgment calls on the actions of others. Don’t fall for the clichés: “You weren’t there…”, “If it worked, it was good enough….” Don’t deprive yourself or others of the most valuable resource we may have.

book called Unarmed america

Book cover courtesy of White Feather Press

Lessons from Unarmed America

Later this summer, my latest book will be released. It is a team effort with Mark Walters, host of Armed American Radio, entitled Lessons from Unarmed America. The book is built around a collection of actual incidents that involved violence. Mark Walters does a superb job of narrating the events and sharing with readers the best information we have about various aspects of each situation.

My entire contribution is Monday Morning Quarterbacking. What was the actual problem? What could’ve been handled differently by the victim (especially in the timeframe leading up to the incident itself)? What lessons can we learn and how can we prepare to deal with a similar situation in the future? Some of the events covered are relatively high profile in our community, including the killing of Nikki Goesser’s husband and the attack at Luby’s Cafeteria, which Suzanna Hupp survived.

One of the most important parts of the book to write was the introduction, because I knew going into it that many people would be sensitive to the judgments being made about the actions of the key players. In fact, I actually hesitated to participate in the project because of those sensitivities. I even considered tempering my thoughts in order to make the book easier to read (and to be supported) by victims. Ultimately, though, the greater good is in having the discussion about the tough points. The greater good isn’t in writing the book for the victims … it is in writing the book in the hope that we can keep someone else from being a victim. That is the value of Monday Morning Quarterbacking.

When it comes to violent conflict, I think it is much better to learn from the experience of others than to have those experiences ourselves … that’s a replacement that everyone should agree is a good trade.

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